According to the Center for Disease Control, half of the 20 million new sexually transmitted infections (STI) each year occur in young people aged 15-24 years — the age group of most college students. STIs (sometimes referred to as STDs) do not discriminate. They can affect any gender, sexual orientation or race. The rates of these infections have been on the rise. College students are more likely to be infected because they tend to have more sexual partners and engage in sexual activity while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. While some forms of sexual activity are less risky, it can be spread during any type. This should be a concern of anyone on campus who is sexually active.
Unfortunately, many STIs do not show symptoms. Chlamydia is a good example of this, because 70% of women and 50% of men that have it will not have symptoms. Other STIs, like HPV or HIV may take months or years to develop any signs. This means that many people may have these infections and may not know it.
Abstinance (or not having) from sex (including oral, anal and vaginal sex) is the most effective way to prevent contracting an STI. Kissing and mutual masturbation (outercourse), are two forms of sexual activity that are less risky but some STIs, such as herpes, can still spread this way.
For those who choose to engage in sexual activities, safer sex is a must. While no sex is “safe,” certain precautions can make it safer.
• Discuss with any potential sexual partner their STI history and drug use.
• Avoid drug use and drinking alcohol to excess.
• Women should not douche after sexual intercourse because it can wash away any spermicide that was used that may offer some protection against STIs and push any bacteria further up into their reproductive tract.
• You should always use a barrier, from the start to end of the sexual activity. Barriers include female (internal) condoms. These condoms have the advantage that they can be inserted in the vagina up to eight hours before having sex, and can be used for both vaginal and anal sex. But they can be hard to find in stores and are expensive. Condoms can be used for vaginal, anal or oral sex and used on sex toys.
The last barrier type is a dental dam. These also may be hard to obtain in stores, but can be made by cutting a condom to make a rectangle. These should be a used as barrier when there is going to be any skin to skin contact, such as in oral sex. Any condom used should be either polyurethane or latex.
• Be alert for your partner having any sores or discharge.
• Be alert for any sores or abnormal discharge that you may have.
• Consider lower-risk sexual activities.
• Have routine STI testing. Those in a monogamous relationship should be tested yearly. People with multiple sexual partners should be checked every three to 12 months. It is important to remember that you need to wait at least two weeks after having sex to be tested, or you may have a false negative.
• If you do have an STI, get treatment. Correctly take any medication that is prescribed and follow your health care provider’s instructions.
If students have any concerns about their sexual health, they should see their medical provider or make an appointment with a doctor at Etter Health Center. While Etter does offer STI testing, you will need to provide your insurance information so that the lab can bill it.
There will be several free STI testing clinics this semester, provided by Keystone Health, at the Health Center. They will be: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Feb. 20 and March 26, and on April 15 from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. and also from 5 – 9 p.m. at the Pride Center.